Unidentified Male: Thank you, Senator. Good to see you again.
Marco Rubio: Thank you.
Unidentified Male: In Milwaukee one week.
Marco Rubio: I know, twice in a week.
Unidentified Male: Washington, D.C. next here we go. Thank you very much indeed for being here. I want to start obviously with the, with the news from Paris and the atrocity that took place there on Friday and the reaction to it. I was watching TV today and there literally on split screen was President Hollande of France and President Obama speaking at the G20 meeting in Turkey. President Hollande was incredibly forceful. He said this, he declared war. He said France was at war. He declared this an act of war, he called for changes to the French Constitution to enable the French to take really aggressive robust action to prosecute this war. The French war planes have been in action over the weekend. He’s called for a completely different approach to how we deal with this problem of radical Islam.
President Obama by contrast essentially said we continue with the same strategy, we do what we’re doing now, we’re going to intensify the strategy. And he saved most of his animus I think is fair to say for his critics at home who haven’t been, who have been criticizing him for not doing enough. On this issue of whether or not what happened in France on Friday requires a fundamental change and a fundamental strategic revision of what we’re doing or whether or not we can just continue to do what we do where do you stand?
Marco Rubio: Well, it actually does require fundamental change and it required it before the attack on Friday. In fact, it’s required it for the better part of a year-and-a-half if not two years. I think the problem the President finds himself in is one of domestic politics. He ran for the Presidency, very clearly as part of his mandate he felt was to extract the United States from further entanglement in the Middle East. He wanted the end of his Presidency to be I got us out of Afghanistan, I got us out of Iraq, and I did not re-entangle us in some other engagement abroad. But of course global affairs and history doesn’t stop. And the truth is that as this issue has gotten worse and worse it will take a more robust U.S. engagement in order to begin to turn the corner on this conflict. And the President either rhetorically won’t make that commitment and, and in fact, literally won’t make that commitment as well.
You’ve seen some tactical changes over the last few weeks that have born some fruit, but by in large from a strategic point of view the U.S. still does not have a well-defined strategy. And in the absence of an American strategy towards ISIS and Jihadism in general you won’t be able to pull together a global coalition that’s effective. Only American leadership can provide the outlines of such a strategy, and only American leadership can lead such a coalition. So I think quite frankly the President is constrained by not only his ideology on this issue but also by the domestic political considerations of not wanting to re-entangle us in yet another conflict. But the truth is we’re entangled in this conflict, and the choice before us is do we confront it while it still remains largely based in Iraq, Syria and Libya or do we allow it to continue to expand the way it is now doing?
Unidentified Male: So what would you, if you were President in a year’s time you could be well be President-elect what would you do specifically?
Marco Rubio: Well, let me, let me just go back. I know we can’t do this, but I would like to go back to what I was talking about in 2012. And it was the argument that this uprising in Syria was not caused by the United States, we did not start the Syrian Civil War. The Syrian Civil War was a function primarily of disaffected Sunnis rebelling against the Assad regime, the Assad regime responded with brutal force led to this uprising. And I said at the time and the record is clear, if we do not find members of that uprising that we can work with this conflict is going to create a vacuum and that vacuum will be filled by what it’s always filled by in the Middle East, radical Jihadists, particularly foreign fighters.
That also played out in Libya. And so that’s why I believed so strongly that we needed to do that at the time. We did not and as a result you’ve seen this play out. It is my belief that ultimately ISIS can only be defeated by Sunnis themselves. They must be rejected ideologically and defeated militarily by Sunnis. I believe Sunnis will have to be the predominant force on the ground that defeats them militarily, but I believe that only has a chance of success if the United States pulls together the coalition and the effort to do so.
And so in the short-term it would be I think will require high profile American special operations that target key nodes in the ISIS network that quite frankly videotape all of this and publicize it. Because much of what ISIS is doing now is a propaganda war. They conduct attacks, they conduct operations and they use the propaganda to create an imagery of themselves as an invincible, unstoppable force. And this is what is attracting and inspiring fighters all over the world to join their cause and also (inaudible) action abroad.
Unidentified Male: So the President has already authorized special operations...
Marco Rubio: Well, he’s authorized 50 special operators, which I believe is an insufficient number for the (inaudible)...
Unidentified Male: How far would you go? How many would you...
Marco Rubio: Well, ultimately the numbers need to be set by the tacticians. Our, their job is to come up with a strategy to carry this out, and then they would tell us the numbers required to do so. And that’s where the President would authorize (inaudible).
Unidentified Male: And much more than 50?
Marco Rubio: I don’t believe that 50, and I don’t believe military commanders will tell you that 50 is sufficient to carry out the operation. I also think we need to begin, we need to continue to increase our air strikes. And that includes moving more of our basing of those aircraft not just to Turkey, but potentially to Iraq if they’ll allow us. And they should allow us because the fact that we have to travel these long distances means there are less strikes we can conduct.
I think you’re gonna have to you need special operators on the ground in order to make those strikes more effective. In the end, in the process of doing all this I think we must also begin to empower both Sunni tribes in Iraq and Syria, but also our Sunni allies in Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and ask more of them in the providing of forced that will, that will comprise the bulk of a ground force that ultimately drives ISIS from the role that they’re now playing. But it has to be a predominantly Sunni led effort. The Kurds can hold their territory that they’re holding and we should help them in that regard.
This is a complex issue. We’re gonna have an issue with the Shia militias, many of which are in the control of the Iranians. You can anticipate that a greater U.S. and coalition presence on the ground will trigger attacks from the Shia militias against us as well. So we have to anticipate that. And ultimately I do not believe any of this is possible as long as Assad or the Assad regime remains in power. They continue to be one of the primary irritants that have created this sectarian strife which allowed ISIS to find fertile ground. So their removal has to be a key component of all this, and that’s why the presence of Russians in Syria further complicates this matter.
Unidentified Male: So you do stick with the, with the administration strategy that Assad has to go?
Marco Rubio: Absolutely.
Unidentified Male: So you saw President Hollande said today who called upon greater cooperation with Russia between Russia and the United States? Now you wouldn’t go there?
Marco Rubio: If Assad is still in power, if Assad let’s say you defeat ISIS and Assad is still in power next you’ll be dealing with Jabhat al-Nusra or some other Sunni group that, that pushes back on Alawite control of that nation. Now, I'm not telling you that Syria is going to become Canada anytime in our lifetime or in the near future. I am saying that there is greater stability necessary there, and in particular our primary national security interest is not to allow there to be any safe operating space from which these groups can grow.
You see what’s happening in Libya, largely under-reported up to this point. Libya has now become the primary space where they recruit and bring foreign fighters for training and then export. It is perfectly positioned in Libya to conduct operations in the Sinai, into Egypt and ultimately into Europe as well. And and I think Libya is a growing problem in this regard as well.
Unidentified Male: So you you would authorize more forces in, in the region, perhaps in Syria as well as in Iraq?
Marco Rubio: And in Libya.
Unidentified Male: And in Libya. But who is the principle enemy in this war? Is it Assad or is it Islamic state?
Marco Rubio: I think they’re interrelated in the sense that Assad and his treatment of Sunnis in particular has served as the one of the irritants that created a Sunni instability. That, that, the ISIS forces have taken advantage of, and others as well. Jabhat al-Nusra is doing that, too, but ISIS right now is the one that’s conducting these, these attacks.
So I think as long as there’s an Assad or an Assad regime in power the irritant will still be there that will lead to another radical Sunni movement taking advantage of what’s happening. Again, it is not our job to put Syria back together, but we can most certainly ensure that there are at least elements on the ground that prevent the creation of these safe havens from which radial Sunni elements can organize, coalesce, train, fund-raise, attract fighters, and ultimately conduct external operation.
Unidentified Male: But you know what the Russians say, the Russians say that Assad is the only plausible alternative to Islamic state and that if you, if you, if you continue to try to...
Marco Rubio: Well, that is, that is actually...
Unidentified Male: Topple, topple Assad you’re gonna strengthen Islamic state and you’re gonna get more and more attacks like you had last well.
Marco Rubio: Well, first of all, I don’t think Assad has been successful at all in targeting the Islamic state and neither have the Russians for that matter. In fact, if you look at the Russian conduct in the region the vast majority of their strikes have been against non-ISIS, non-Jihadists elements on the ground because that’s precisely the outcome that Putin wants. Putin wants to find himself in a situation after he’s wiped out all the non-ISIS fighters on the ground that he can then turn to the world and say in Syria there are only two groups left, Assad and ISIS.
Whose side are you on? And he, and he, I'm not sure he’s wedded to Assad personally, but the Assad regime, some sort of pro-Russian regime that allows him not just to land basing but the sea base that they have there as well. And the geopolitical foothold that he’s now been able to establish in the Middle East is a key component of his strategy for that region. Because for Putin this is multi-faceted. It allows him to show his country and the world that he is a power broker on par with the United States. It allows the world to be distracted from Ukraine, you see no discussion Ukraine. And it also allows him internally in Russia to appear as a strong global leader, which he hopes that nationalism more than covers up for the economic catastrophe that is the Russian economy and the experience of the Russian people.
Unidentified Male: So you reject this idea that we make common cause with the Russians against the common enemy which is Islamic, which is this Islamic fundamentalism, this radical Islam as you’ve described?
Marco Rubio: Well, as long as the Russian strategy is what it remains now I don’t know how we find common cause because by in large the Russian strategy up until this point has been to wipe out the non-ISIS fighters and then force the world into at fault choice between Assad and ISIS. And, and I think that further complicates and erodes our ability to work with him on this matter.
Unidentified Male: You call for a no fly zone over, over Syria. That, that could potentially, I mean, the President ridiculed that today and said, you know, most Islamic state has no, has no, has no air capability and that, you know, Assad has been using very limited air forces. And that would run, that would lead to a direct confrontation potentially with the Russians.
Marco Rubio: Well, for the thousands...
Unidentified Male: The Russians who are flying...
Marco Rubio: For the thousands of people killed by Assad’s barrel bombs dropped from both helicopters and airplanes I'm not sure they would agree that it’s been limited. A safe zone is important primarily for two points. One, it’s to allow refugees fleeing the conflict to find a place to go that doesn’t involve the dangerous journey and the unstable journey into Europe. And the other is to allow a place where non-Assad Syrians can organize themselves as an alternative to Assad long-term, but also as an effective fighting force Sunnis removing a, you know, Sunni Jihadist movement like ISIS.
They need a safe operating space. The only people with safe operating space right now in the Middle East is in Libya it’s where the Islamic state has been able to establish. And I want to make one more point about ISIS because I want to be on the record about this. They are growing in influence in Afghanistan. They are in an open competition for the Taliban for to attract Sunni fighters away from the Taliban and towards them, they are starting to percolate in Pakistan which is a dangerous development given the fact that Pakistan is a nuclear armed state. They conducted an assault last week in Lebanon designed for purposes of fostering sectarian strife between Shia and Sunni.
I think you’re gonna see greater engagement on their part in both the Sinai and ultimately into Egypt and they have as a clear goal targeting the kingdom both in Saudi Arabia and in Jordan. They are primly positioned to do that already towards Jordan. This is a group that is growing that is not contained and is growing in its capabilities in the region, and has already shown is growing in its capabilities and external operations as well.
Unidentified Male: But just to be clear a no, Russians are flying many soldiers a day. A no fly zone could bring the United States in direct into direct confrontation with the Russians. You, you’re comfortable with that?
Marco Rubio: I think that we would be more than capable of discouraging the Russians from conducting those attacks. Primarily...
Unidentified Male: Shoot down you would have to shoot down a Russian plane...
Marco Rubio: Because we have, well, I don’t think it would get to that point but that would be their choice. Because my we have a superior military capability than the Russians do in that region number one. Number two, there’s no excuse for the Russians to be bombing a no safe zone that would be largely made up of refugees and non-Assad rebels who are there for the purpose of reclaiming their country and defeating the Islamic state. If in fact Russia’s fight in the region is against ISIS then they would have no reason to be flying over a no fly zone because there won’t be any ISIS fighters in that territory.
Unidentified Male: What needs to be done here in the United States to deal with this threat? It’s clear again, Friday showed how, how palpable this threat is and how, how real this threat is from, from potentially domestically most of these seem to have been French citizens that were, there was this issue of a migrant, too. What do you what needs to be what more how vulnerable is the United States domestically to his kind of attack and, and what would you do to deter it?
Marco Rubio: We are vulnerable. What happened in Paris could happen in a major American city at any moment, at any time. Now that there’s a specific threat that I'm gonna share or know about, I just know we know that this is true. That, that there is in fact elements that seek to strike us here in the homeland, and have the capability to do so. It’s just a question of whether they can carry it out. And we disrupted plots. And the danger is multi-faceted.
It is external operators who are, who could be sent here or have been sent here for a specific purpose, and it’s also lone actors. This is the other facet of the external operations of ISIS. Lone actors that gain inspiration and tactical advice online from publications put out by ISIS about how to conduct an attack to inflict maximum casualty. And you’ve seen efforts of that as well. And that’s why our intelligence programs are so important. I think it’s, it’s a distinctive issue of debate in the presidential race.
At least two of my colleagues in the Senate aspiring to the Presidency, Senator Cruz in particular have voted to weaken the U.S. intelligence programs just in the last month-and-a-half. And the weakening of our intelligence gathering capabilities leaves America vulnerable. And, and that is exactly what’s happened. We have weakened the U.S. intelligence gathering capability through a combination of disclosures by, by a traitor, Edward Snowden, and also through the, through the weakening in our own laws of important programs that now are being phased out and as a result will cost us the ability to gather actionable intelligence against elements operating in our territory.
Unidentified Male: So one issue is this issue of surveillance and, you know, some of the technology companies, Apple in particular have got, have been very, very, very emphatic in making the point that they want to protect their user’s privacy. And that their privacy is important and as we know and we’re probably gonna find out increasingly from France and elsewhere that there are all kinds of communications now that literally can’t be accessed because of the changes that have been made in the issue of privacy. Would you force the technology companies to make that, to make more of that information available?
Marco Rubio: The number one obligation of the federal government is to provide for the national security of the United States. If someone in the federal government is found abusing these programs and these authorities they should be fired and prosecuted for having done so. That said, we need to have real time access to any actionable intelligence that will allow us to save American lives.
The United States government has neither the competence, the money, or the time to spy on every American and so that’s not happening. But we need to have access to this information in order to save lives, especially in an exigent circumstance. And so we need the cooperation of these technology companies, but ultimately the authority of the United States may be necessary because at the end of the day the number one obligation of the federal government is to protect us from a threat unlike any we have ever faced. This is a unique threat. And when you mention about the technologies you’re talking about encryption which is now increasingly being used. As these groups have improved their capability at communication security they have gotten better at how they communicate with each other.
They have improved, they have learned both from the disclosure of Snowden and others, but also from failures in the past. They’ve learned from it and improved. We need to stay ahead of that. Will that guarantee that we’re gonna prevent every possible attack? It will not. Sadly, no matter how good we get at intelligence gathering this threat is so unique and so multi-faceted that we will not be able to prevent every single one of them. But I do believe that the weakening of the current programs have left us unnecessarily vulnerable to some of these attacks or the follow-up attacks and the networks that support those attacks.
Unidentified Male: What about the security issue of the Syrian of the migrants? The President has said the U.S. will accept 10,000 Syrian migrants. I think today as many as 11 state governors have come out and said they don’t they won’t accept migrants in their own states. Where do you stand on that?
Marco Rubio: So, this is a tough issue because it goes to the core of who we’ve always been as a people which is a nation that serves as a beacon of hope and inspiration to those that are fleeing oppression. The flip side of it is that we also have to provide for our own national security, and nothing can oversee can supersede that. My problem with the migrants is and the migrant situation is not that we don’t want to accept migrants. It’s that I'm not sure we can.
In fact, I'm increasingly convinced we can’t at least in this stage in the process because you cannot accurately do a background check on even 10,000 people. It’s not like you can pick up the phone and call the Syrian government and find out who somebody is. It’s not as if the documents that people are bringing from abroad are reliable in terms of what they’re saying. In fact, often they’re easily forged. It is not easy to conduct a background check on someone that is coming from that part of the world. And here’s the problem, you allow 10,000 people in. 9,999 of them are innocent people fleeing oppression and one of them is a well-trained ISIS fighter. You’ve got a huge problem on your hands. And, and that’s the problem that we have with this program.
It’s not that we don’t want to do it, and it’s not that we as a nation’s heart doesn’t break, but by the same token what if we get one of them wrong? Just one of them wrong, the consequences could be extraordinary. And that’s why I think a better approach is to create these havens within the Middle East where some of these are ancient communities that have been present in the region for over 2,000 years are being driven from their ancestral homelands. And it would be much better to leave them in their region and safety than drive hundreds of thousands of people permanently away from a region of the world where they have links that go back millennia.
Unidentified Male: Let’s move on to the other, many of the other hot button issues in the, in the Presidential election campaign right now. Immigration following on from that. A few years ago you were part of the so-called gang of eight Republicans and Democrats who worked together in the Senate to come up with a plan which got approved by the Senate to allow a path to citizenship for the 11 million or so illegal immigrants here in, here in the United States. You’ve changed, you’ve changed your view since then to some extent. You’ve in important respects with regard to citizenship versus permanent residency, and you’ve been attacked by the likes of Senator Cruz in particular and others for having essentially supported amnesty in the past and have now changed your position. What, what, where are you now and how do you respond to that charge...
Marco Rubio: Well, yeah.
Unidentified Male: That you supported amnesty?
Marco Rubio: Yeah let me clarify a couple points. First of all, everybody running for the nomination for the Presidency on the Republican side supports legalizing people that are here illegally. Donald Trump wants them to leave before he legalizes them, everyone else and then he’s gonna legalize them and bring them back in. Everyone else...
Unidentified Male: (Inaudible).
Marco Rubio: Has supported in the past or supports now legalizing through some criteria people that are in this country illegally, and that includes Senator Cruz. Who not only sponsored an amendment that would have done so but months later was still talking about his support of it. If he’s changed his position he has a right to, and I think that he should be asked whether he’s changed his position. Going back to 2013...
Unidentified Male: Well, he wants to expand the H1B Visa Program I think significantly?
No, no, I'm talking, no beyond the...
Unidentified Male: Oh, you’re talking yeah.
Marco Rubio: He does want to he wanted a 500 percent increase in the H1B program but beyond that he also wanted to legalize, he said he wanted to bring out of the shadows and legalize them. Just not grant them citizenship. If he has changed his position on that he has a right to change his position, he should just be asked to clarify what his position is today. In 2013 I endeavored to deal with immigration reform because I believe this country needs to deal with it. And I felt at the time that we have an opportunity to produce the best possible bill out of the Senate in the hopes that the House would take it up and improve it even further. And then offer the President a choice about immigration reform or not. Because the truth is the Democrats had the majority of the House and the Senate and the Presidency for two years beginning in 2008 and did absolutely nothing on immigration.
Therefore, they have no standing to criticize Republicans on it. What I learned from that experience was this, the American people have zero trust in the federal government to enforce the law. The American people recognize we need to deal with this issue. We need to fix what we have, we need to deal with the people who are already here in a responsible way, but they’re not willing to do it unless they can be assured that this is never going to happen again. And just passing a law that says we’re gonna enforce immigration law is not enough. They want to see it actually done.
That was an extraordinary revelation that it’s not enough to just pass the law, they want to see it in place and they want to see it working before they’re gonna allow you the political support to do anything else. So the only thing I’ve changed is to say look, the only way we’re gonna be able to move forward on this begins by proving to the American people that illegal immigration is under control. That from this moment forward illegal immigration into the United States has been substantially lowered to a level that people are comfortable with. And we know what it takes to do that. Not just more physical security on the border, but an employment verification system that’s cost effective, an entry exit tracking system that allows us access in real time to those, to the names of those who are in this country illegally because they overstayed a Visa. That’s almost half the people in this country illegally.
I also think as part of that the second step would need to be modernizing our legal immigration system so that it’s bureaucratic, more efficient, but more importantly merit based. So that the primary criteria that is used to allow someone to immigrant here is what can they contribute economically, not whether or not they have a relative living here. Once we’ve done those two things I think the American people will be very reasonable about what do you do with someone who has been here for 10 years who isn’t otherwise has not otherwise violated the law? And I think the process is you come forward if you, if you can’t pass the background check you have to leave.
If you pass the background check you have to learn English, pay start paying taxes, pay a fine, and you get a work permit. And that’s all you’re gonna have for at least 10 years is a work permit that you need to renew. And at the end of the 10 years, I, this is not a majority position in my party, but I am personally open to allowing people to apply for a Green Card like anybody else would through the new merit based process. Others are saying just leave them at the work permit. I don’t think that that disagreement should allow us not to move forward on immigration. The best we can do is a work permit it’s better than what we have now, but I personally am open to the idea of allowing people to apply for a Green Card after the 10 year period.
But I just don’t think you can do this all at once. I know you can’t do this all at once because it’s been tried three or four times over the last decade and a half and each time it is met with failure. There is no comprehensive approach to immigration reform that has a chance of passage any time in the near future.
Unidentified Male: But you’re striking a different tone, both from the tone you struck a couple of years ago and from the tone that was very striking in the debate last week that we were at, where both Governor Bush and Governor Kasich were very emphatic in responding to Ted Cruz in saying, you know, it’s inhumane or to, or to Donald Trump and saying it’s inhumane. This is not the American way. We need, you know, there are people here who have been here for many, many years. We’re not gonna send them away, we’re not gonna pull children, you know, parents away from their children. You, they were very passionate about the humanitarian consequences here.
Marco Rubio: Well...
Unidentified Male: You seem to be much more emphasis on enforcement now than you were.
Marco Rubio: Yeah well, no and even then I was, too. Because my point is that there is no right to illegally immigrate to any country in the world including the United States. Now, do I understand the human aspect of this? Yes, that’s what makes it such a difficult issue. You’re dealing with human beings, some of whom have very compelling stories that will break your heart, others who have been taking advantage of the system. And I see it all. Immigration is not something I read about in a book, it’s not a Frontline episode that I watched on PBS. It’s something that I’ve lived all of my, my family are immigrants. My wife’s family are all immigrants.
Every single one of my neighbors is either an immigrant or a first generation American. I know every aspect of immigration personally, and I know the good, the bad, and the ugly of this whole system. I believe that if we deal with people that are in this country illegally we do so because they are, they have appealed to our compassion and also to our common sense and what’s good to the country. But there is no right to illegally immigrate to the United States. If we deal with this issue we do so because it’s in the best interest of America, and I do think that people are going to be very reasonable. I do not believe you can round up and deport 11 million people for a variety of reasons. I also understand that we are not gonna grant blanket amnesty to 11 million people.
It’s unfair to the people that are trying to come legally, and it undermines our ability, you know, actually encouraging more people to come illegally in the future. So again, if we can prove to people that illegal immigration is under control and we can modernize our legal immigration system I believe most Americans share my view and are willing to be very realistic and responsible about what you do with those who have been here for a significant period of time and can pass a background check.
Unidentified Male: Let me ask you about the economy, particularly taxes now. All the Republican candidates this time around are offering significant tax reform and indeed tax reductions and, you know, there’s much less concern this time as say there was with compare with what there was with Mitt Romney in 2012 about revenue neutral. You’re all offering programs you’re all offering tax plans that essentially would, you know, even, even with some dynamic scoring would in short-term increase, increase the deficit. Let me ask you about your particular plan which puts much more you don’t cut the, the top rates of personal tax as much. You just bring that top rate down to 35 percent, but you emphasize a lot a massive expansion in child tax credit.
I asked you this about, about this last week. You know the various estimates have come up upwards of, you know, 150, $170 billion for the expansion of tax credit. The evidence is that once you expand these, these kind of tax credits they become very hard ever for and they’re refundable, too, so they’re kind of there as a permanent fixture. They become very hard to, to ever to reduce. And as I said to you, isn’t this just another big entitlement program that you’re creating for low income families?
Unidentified Male: The tax policy is not an entitlement and because tax policy can be reformed and changed as we’re advocating that we do now. I would argue a couple points in this regard. The first is, you can’t just look at the top rate in the vacuum because for example, we take all business income including that of pass-through companies. Many of whom are paying on their personal rate that can be as high as 39-and-a-half percent, and we lower all business income, both C corporations and pass-throughs to a flat rate of 25 percent.
We allow for immediate and full expensing of all investment in a business, which does away with the need for all these extenders and loopholes that now exist in the tax code. We move to a territorial system of taxation. I believe we remain the only major industrial nation on Earth that now taxes on a worldwide system. These are all dramatic changes on the growth side of the plan. On the personal...
Unidentified Male: That would encourage the repatriation of corporate overseas...
Marco Rubio: Yeah, $2 trillion of American corporate cash sits overseas, the equivalent of the GDP of Russia. And I'm not saying we’re gonna get all of it back but we’re gonna get a significant portion of it if we move to a territorial system of taxation. The, the issue on the personal side you ask about the tax credit and then I want to talk about the debt because it’s related to the issue of revenue neutral, neutrality. I think that the tax credit I propose is not just pro-family it’s pro-work. Because you can’t get the tax credit if you don’t work. You have to pay payroll tax in order to qualify, even for the refundable portion of it. So number one, it’s a pro-work tax.
The other is it takes into account a very unique 21st Century reality. And that is that it is expensive to raise a family in the 21st Century. There are significant costs associated with raising children in the 21st Century and for working families the tax code should reflect that by allowing people to keep more of their own money for things like saving for college. For things like paying for childcare which in at least 30 out of 50 states is as if not more expensive than going to college. For things like the fact that, I know I'm raising four kids now, you can buy shoes for them in January and my March or April you got to get new shoes.
These are real expenses that face working families. So it’s a pro-family and it’s also a pro-work endeavor that tries to reflect the tax code that reflects the reality of 21st Century life for a growing number of Americans. On the issue of the debt we need to understand the debt is important. It’s not just a sheer dollar. If Italy had a $5 trillion debt it would be a catastrophe. It America had a $5 trillion debt we wouldn’t even be talking about the debt, because we have an 18 or $19 trillion economy GDP. Our goal is to bring the debt down and to a sustainable level as a percentage of the overall size of our economy. There will always be some level of government debt but it has to be a manageable level. How do you do that? Through a combination of two things.
Number one, you dramatically grow your economy through robust growth which is what the business side of the plan tries to do in taxes along with regulatory reform because the growth comes from the business side of the tax code. And the second thing is you must tackle entitlement programs. I am from Florida, there are a lot of people on Medicare and Social Security in Florida. That’s not well known, but there are a lot of people in Florida on Medicare and Social Security. My mother is one of them.
Unidentified Male: You’ve seen them driving cars I think down there.
Marco Rubio: Yeah. My mother is one of them. He said that, not me. My mother is one of them, she’s 85-years-old. I don’t want anything that’s bad for her. We still have time to save these programs in a way that brings their long-term spending trends under control without disrupting anything for current beneficiaries. But we need a President and we need public officials that are gonna be honest with people like me. I'm 44-years-old.
My Medicare and Social Security is going to look different than my mother’s. One way or the other, it will either be a program that’s facing a crisis or it will be changed. I’ll to retire at 68 instead of 67. My benefits may not grow as fast if I’ve been financially successful. My Medicare benefits could very well be the option of taking my Medicare money and purchasing a private plan that I like better. These are not unreasonable changes, and they begin to bring stability long-term to a program that were designed when there were 16 workers for every retiree, and now, are now headed to two worker for every retiree.
You’ve got to do both. You can’t just do the tax plan, you must do the entitlement reforms or you will never bring this debt under control. And you will have an American debt crisis, that is an unavoidable outcome of the current trend line.
Unidentified Male: I want to give the CEOs a chance to ask a few questions, but two more very quick topic if I may.
Marco Rubio: I tried to filibuster.
Unidentified Male: You’ve done very, you’ve, you’ve...
Marco Rubio: I'm still going.
Unidentified Male: Answered lots of questions very directly. The all the Republican candidates have been very critical of the Federal Reserve. We saw that again at the debate last week, very, very critical of the policies of the Federal Reserve and in particular of Janet Yellen. Can I just ask you outright if you’re President in 2018 you’ll get a chance to re-nominate Janet Yellen, would you?
Marco Rubio: I would not and I’ll tell you why. We’ve become Fed obsessed. I don’t understand everything on the news today is what’s the Fed gonna do, what’s that’s not the job. The Fed is essential...
Unidentified Male: Potentially the Wall Street Journal won’t have anything to say.
Marco Rubio: I know. Well, hopefully you’ll have a debate about fiscal policy. The Fed is no substitute for tax policies, regulatory policies, fiscal economic policies that create an environment that’s conducive to economic growth. In fact, the Fed oftentimes by trying to compensate for bad fiscal policy ends up making policies that dramatically alter the economy in very negative ways.
Unidentified Male: Do you have somebody in mind that you would...
Marco Rubio: I...
Unidentified Male: Right now that you would nominate?
Marco Rubio: Maybe someone in this room. No, I don’t, I don’t. I mean, it’s presumptuous to talk about that.
Unidentified Male: But definitely not Janet Yellen? Yeah.
Marco Rubio: Well, my problem is that this notion of a Fed that is overactive and believes that it is it’s job to manage the economy I think has done harm to American. Easy money did harm during the housing crisis era. Easy money has done harm to Main Street now. The access to easy money has allowed as we were talking earlier at the table for a large number of companies to borrow money at zero interest and use it to buy back shares and use it to goose up the stock market.
Has also used it for mergers and acquisitions, but it has made personal savings for individuals negative, it has in many ways had negative impact on the lives of every day Americans. And my problem is I think we’ve reached that’s why I'm really a strong believer in some sort of rules based Fed policy. Because at least it provides some level of certainty as opposed to this sort of instinctive we are gonna get in a room and we are debate for a, and you know, a couple hours about what we should do. But it’s not based on any, any sort of metrics that you can predict. And the result is maybe it’s good for those who cover financial news, but it’s just this onslaught of constant speculation about when are interest rates gonna go up and the impact that that’s having on uncertainty that injects into the economy.
I think it’s counterproductive. We need a Fed that is what it’s supposed to be, a central bank that has solid monetary policy and allows us to smooth out the ebbs and flows of the economic cycles. But by in large growth in our economy is due to a robust private sector that has the confidence to invest in the future because we have economic policies that make us globally comparative, competitive via the rest of the world.
Unidentified Male: Quick final question on trade. President just signed concluded a deal with the, with 11 other Pacific countries in the Trans-Pacific Partnership big trade deal. One of the biggest trade opening deals that’s been signed in this region in a very long time. You’ve had a chance, they’ve published the details of the, of the deal a couple weeks ago. I'm sure you haven’t read all 5,500 pages yet, but I bet you probably got a bit of time on your hands so...
Marco Rubio: Yeah exactly.
Unidentified Male: I'm sure you got plenty of chance. But, but this is gonna be a hugely important issue.
Marco Rubio: I agree.
Unidentified Male: Every Republican President since, since Herbert Hoover has supported trade opening measures. Presidents of both parties have supported trade opening measures, would you vote for the TPP?
Marco Rubio: Well, I support free trade. I want, I support a TPP. Whether this specific one I’ll support we have to review. We just literally got it I believe a week ago Thursday or Friday. We have a 90 day review period. I want it to succeed. I hope there’s something, there’s not something in there that I can’t be supportive of. Not that I expect it to be perfect, because I think a trade this trade deal is important. I believe it’s important for a number of reasons. Number one, because 40 to 45 percent of global commerce in occurring in this part of the world and American cannot be locked out from it.
I think the impact of its failure could be potentially catastrophic. In fact, it plays perfectly into the hands of the Chinese narrative in the Asia Pacific region, which is the United States is a power in decline and in retreat and that they are gonna set the rules of the road which would completely unsettle Bretton Woods and everything that this world has arrived on since the end of the second World War that has created an unprecedented era of global growth and prosperity. We are allowing the Chinese if this fails to set the rules of the road for the fastest and most important region of the world in the 21st Century. So I think it’s critical that we have access to these emerging markets. We are a low tariff country at the end of the day.
No one benefits more than we do from the lowering of tariff and non-tariff barriers to trade. We’re already a low tariff country. The ability to export services, manufactured goods, and agriculture to developed economies like Japan as an example could be a net incredible positive to the American business climate. It has to be structured in a way that is right. It has to be fair, but that’s why I need to review the deal. But in general I do believe we need not just a Trans-Pacific Partnership but one that allows America to continue to be an influence.
Unidentified Male: Hillary Clinton has come out against it. Does that make you feel inclined...
Marco Rubio: Well, she used to be for it.
Unidentified Male: I know. Does that make you inclined, you said you were for trade. I mean, is that, is that possible you could change her mind?
Marco Rubio: Well, she came out against it before the deal was even announced what was in it.
Unidentified Male: True.
Marco Rubio: So she’s obviously catering to labor constituents in her own party and other voices that have forced her far to the left on a lot of these issues. I supported fast track authority because I believe it’s important to conclude this negotiation. Like anything else it is an extensive deal that is complex and I want to understand all of its details before I can become a champion of this particular deal, but I do believe we need a free trade deal with Asia Pacific nations, and Pacific Rim nations including many here in the western hemisphere that are a part of it. I think it’s important for this country, both from a geopolitical perspective, but also from an economic one.
Unidentified Male: It sounds to me like you’re inclined to support it?
Marco Rubio: I want to support it. It has to be a good deal.
Unidentified Male: Thank you. Questions, please, from the audience anybody? There is a microphone which John(sp?) is going to circulate and you have a few minutes with the man who may be the next President of the United States. I think there must be a question or two.
Marco Rubio: See, it’s they’re so much easier to answer when they’re 90 seconds in a debate.
Unidentified Male: Over, yeah, Tim I think I see Tim Montgomerie over there.
Tim Montgomerie: Can I apologize, first of all, you’ve had one Brit interviewing you, and you now got another Brit asking a question. We’re taking over, Tim Montgomerie from The Times of London. President Obama has said that he would like Britain to stay part of the European Union and I wonder whether you have a view yourself? It’s a big issue for many of us and we wonder whether America would accept open borders with its neighbors as Britain currently have with other judges from other countries deciding your laws and some of us would perhaps like an American President to be more open to the possibility that an independent Britain freed from being part of the European super state might actually be a better ally for your country.
Marco Rubio: Well, and part of being a strong ally, particularly of Britain and of the UK is for, is for us to respect its sovereignty and its and its right to make its own decisions about what’s in the right and proper interest. It’s a vibrant democratic country. It has leaders who made these decisions and are held electable by their and are held accountable by their electorate. And so I don’t think it’s proper for an American President or for that matter and American Presidential candidate to tell the UK what is right for them any more than it would be right for the UK to tell us that they wanted us to sign NAFTA or some other agreement.
So I would just say in that realm that irrespective of what decision the UK makes they have a right to make it, we’ll respect whatever decision their elected leaders make, and they’ll continue to be among certainly our best friend in the world and one of our strongest alliances either way. But, but ultimately that’s up to the leaders of that country to make their decisions about what’s right for the future. And either way it’s not gonna change the nature of our relationship.
Unidentified Male: One or two more questions. As Robert said at the start we have companies that represent many, many millions of employees here so I'm sure there are concerns of live.
Unidentified Male: Thank you. Since you had an Englishman I might as well get an Aussie into the game.
Marco Rubio: Another great friend in the world.
Unidentified Male: There you go. Just talking about Syria for a minute. It looks like the outcome with the Russians coming in it looks like the balkanization of Syria. How would you deal with that if that’s the end game and what do you think about that?
Marco Rubio: Let me be frank about something because I think I don’t want to make headlines with his, but what the heck. I think the border of Syria and Iraq has largely been erased by this conflict. Now whether that’s a permanent status or not I don’t know, and perhaps we hope not. But if you look at it it’s already balkanized. You have an Alawite enclave in areas near Damascus, you have a massive Sunni population that straddles that border, you have Kurds up north both in Syria and in Iraq, you have a Shia majority in the central part of the country around areas like Baghdad and in the central part of the nation. The you have Christian communities that have been driven from different regions but still represent a substantial portion of the population that hopefully can return to the ancestral homelands.
So and you have in frank artificial lines that were driven that were drawn without any thought process to all of this. Now, ideally we would want in an ideal world the nation state element there would remain in place, but it’s increasingly difficult to envision how that’s gonna happen anytime in the near future. And some of that was touched upon by the comments that I’ve given here today. And that is the need to work more closely with our Sunni allies in the region because I think they must be the ones that defeat ISIS.
But that will drive in some respects a potential wedge with some of these Shia groups that largely sponsored and directed from Tiran. And so I think the region is already increasingly balkanized and has been quite frankly for a significant period of time in many respects even before the invasion of Iraq some of these elements were already existed on the ground. So that’s why, that’s what I eluded to when I said I don’t think you’re gonna see Syria turn into Canada anytime in the near future. Our national security interest is not as not ensuring that nation states reform. We would love to see that stability come because it would be good for the people of that region, but our national security interest is in ensuring that in the process of all that instability that I’ve just outlined there does not, there is not creating vacuums, safe operating spaces for radical Jihadist groups with external desires and external ambitions to organize, and that’s what’s happened.
That this whole instability that I’ve just described and that you eluded to has created vacuums and spaces that have been filled and where they’ve been able to create these safe havens from which they operate. In the absence of safe havens these terrorist groups cannot conduct the sort of external attacks we now see. Al Qaeda needs safe havens in Afghanistan to conduct 9-11 and ISIS needs the safe havens it’s had in Iraq and now in Libya to conduct the attacks we now see them conducting. And it’s in the national security interest of the United States and the west to prevent those safe havens from taking root. And beyond that obviously one of the best ways to prevent them is to have nation states that govern their territory. But the challenges to that after all that’s happened are gonna be extremely difficult given the polarization.
Unidentified Male: One more question and then we got to wrap up. Yes, sir over here? Yeah go ahead.
Nick Pinchuk: Yeah, I'm Nick Pinchuk and I'm not from overseas. I'm from, I'm from Snap-On tools Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Marco Rubio: All right. What part of Australia is that in?
Nick Pinchuk: Hard to say. Look, I would say over the past several iterations of State of the Unions we’ve beheld foolish agendas from Presidents yet I think over years we’ve also seen the limits of political capital and the difficulty of accomplishing things in Washington. So if you were elected President what would be the two or three things you would want to accomplish for sure? The highest priority things?
Right. I think that’s an excellent question. In fact, that’s one of the things I point to quite often. Presidents take office with a limited amount of political capital and there’s no interest on that capital. In essence, you either spend it or you lose it.
So you have to prioritize quickly what that should be. In fact, you should know that as you run for President. So the President, the current President spend his political capital on Dodd Frank and Obamacare and the stimulus and then a slew of other things. In my mind there are two major threats that we face to the country. One is the national security issue. So I think rebuilding giving our nation a, a clear foreign policy of moral clarity which leaves our allies trusting in us and our adversaries respectful of us combined with a rebuilding of our national security are essential. And I understand you’ll hear later from the Secretary of Defense. He will share with you I hope how catastrophic this defense sequester is to the long-term viability and strength of our national security apparatus in this country.
It is the most important thing the federal government does. And the other priority is everything possible to ensure that America fulfills its potential in the 21st Century economy. We are now engaged not just in a rapidly evolving economy for what we face now is not an economic downturn. It is a massive restructuring of the very essence of the economy and it is changing faster than ever. And it is an economy that is global and therefore requires us to compete at a global level. And that’s why the second priority would be an agenda that allows us to tackle tax reform and at some form that makes us more competitive, a regulatory reform that makes us more competitive, the full utilization of our energy resources in a responsible way, efforts like entitlement reform to balance our budgets, and the repeal of the Obamacare the healthcare law and the replacement of it with a free market alternative.
These have to be the two priorities of the next President, rebuild our national security and rebuild our international economic competitiveness. I would add a third one but I'm probably out of capital, and that is we must modernize higher education in the United States. It has to be faster and easier and cheaper to access, that includes a renewed focus on career training. Some of the best jobs of the 21st Century require more than traditional high school but less than four years of college. It involves alternatives to things like more competency based learning for example that allows people to get credit for what they’ve learned on their own, through life experience and work experience and package the rest through a variety of sources.
That’s why I’ve proposed alternative accrediting models that will open up the space for that. And alternatives to the traditional student loan, including the student investment plan that allows graduate students and others to go to investments groups to pay for their studies instead of taking out a loan and more information like Right to Know Before You Go. That says that before you take out a student loan schools will be required to tell you how much somebody makes when they graduate from that school with that degree. So that’s a lot of political capital, but these are the essential issues before our country that I hope we’ll confront in the next presidency.
Unidentified Male: Ladies and gentlemen, I think you all know the Senator has a very busy schedule that takes him all over the country in the course of the next six months. So please join me in thanking him for taking the time.
Marco Rubio: Thank you.